Supplier Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 - Eddie Blau, Innovation Line

On the morning of September 19, 2015, Eddie Blau was exercising in his backyard when he received a life-changing phone call. The building that housed his supplier firm, Innovation Line (asi/62660), was set ablaze.

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“It was chaos,” says Blau, who spent the next three days setting up 50 employees in the basement of a nearby DoubleTree Hotel and another 50 in three other offices. Workers salvaged the remaining inventory, filling 40 shipping containers sprawled throughout the parking lot.

It took more than 100 firefighters to extinguish the flames and after four hours, they were successful. But the damage had been massive: 30,000 square feet of office, warehouse and manufacturing space lost. About 40% of inventory destroyed. All during the tail end of the company’s best year to date, finishing at $28 million in sales.

“Miraculously, due to a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication from all of our employees, we were shut down for only three business days,” Blau says. “Our overseas vendors and some amazing, friendly domestic suppliers helped us to start getting back in stock within two weeks.”

Blau hadn’t faced a challenge like that since joining the company in 1993, when at 28 years old, he left his job as a corporate attorney (taking a 50% pay cut) to take over for his wife’s grandfather, Leon Perl, who assumed leadership after his son-in-law, founder Clement Hasson, passed away the age of 44.

“I knew very little about the industry,” Blau says, “but I was driven to learn and succeed with this business.”

Blau went to trade shows, networking with both distributors and suppliers, conducting his own research on ad specialties. He also traveled the world to find machinery and employees who could grow the company’s promotional product sales from its $1 million peak.

“We didn’t even have a computer system,” Blau laughs.

More than two decades later, Innovation Line now specializes in trade show-related products, luggage tags, lanyards, table covers and more, in addition to manufacturing its own line of American-made acrylic awards. The company was recognized in 2015 as one of Counselor’s Fastest-Growing Suppliers, with 73% sales growth from 2012-2014. And, Innovation Line is set to be on the exclusive list again for 2016, with a 94% increase in sales from 2013-2015.

“Nobody can build a first-class organization on their own,” Blau says. “We have an amazing staff of smart, dedicated, can-do employees. It has taken a lot of hard work and dedication to get where we are.”